By Nate Allen
Special to the News-Times
FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas' new coach and newly completed North End Zone renovation at Reynolds Razorback Stadium debut with an old Razorback from Rogers coaching the opposition today.
Arkansas coach Chad Morris, hired away last December from coaching SMU after Bret Bielema's five-years tenure with the Razorbacks was terminated the day after Thanksgiving, makes his Razorbacks debut at 3 p.m. today televised on the SEC Network against the Eastern Illinois Panthers.
Morris, a renowned offensive coordinator at Clemson before becoming the head coach at SMU, and for 16 years a high school coach in Texas where Arkansas is desperate to reestablish strong recruiting ties, has created excitement for a program that wallowed at 4-8 last year.
He's consistently spoken to over capacity crowds at various Razorback clubs and banquets.
"It’s not about me," Morris said.
He said it's about the state of Arkansas' hunger for the Razorbacks to win again and the hunger the players have to win for the Razorbacks fans and themselves.
"It’s about these guys that are putting all the time and effort in," Morris said. "Obviously, I’ll be excited to be on that sideline with these guys as we kick this journey off."
It kicks off with the $160 million North End Zone project completed, adding luxury seating, including wings dedicated to Arkansas' Southwest Conference history ending with the 1991 season and history in the SEC that began in 1992, the 1964 Frank Broyles coached Razorbacks national championship team, and for players present and future, a state of the art spacious locker room and a brand new Broyles Center.
The Panthers of the Ohio Valley Conference and the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) both lower level than Arkansas' SEC home in the top tiered FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) are coached by Kim Dameron, a former Rogers Mountie and Razorback cornerback/receiver for Lou Holtz from 1979-82.
Dameron, in his fifth season at EIU, but a coach since he was an Arkansas grad assistant in 1983, can't believe the facility's facelifts since his Arkansas playing days.
"I've seen video," Dameron said of Arkansas' north end palace. "It’s quite impressive with the SEC section, the Southwest Conference section, which of course I would be most interested in, and also the 64 Lounge. Just all of that, gosh it’s unbelievable. I see it as a program, trying to compete on a national scale and then hiring Chad to come in there and spark up obviously the offense and with coach (John) Chavis, a legend in the SEC coming in and being the defensive coordinator, it’s going to be a formidable task."
Chavis has coordinated SEC defenses since 1995 at Tennessee, then LSU, Texas A&M and now Arkansas.
Dameron has coached at Murray State as defensive coordinator under former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt. He assisted Nutt again at Ole Miss after coordinating defenses at Eastern Illinois, Stephen F. Austin and Louisiana-Monroe. Post Ole Miss, Dameron coordinated defenses at Cornell and Louisiana Tech.
His 2007 ULM defense was a big part of something that no Razorbacks team has ever achieved, beating a Nick Saban coached Alabama team.
"Coach Dameron is very well thought of," Morris said. "Obviously, no stranger to big games. He took that ULM unit into Alabama and beat them."
Dennis Winston knows Arkansas and knows Dameron and Eastern Illinois.
Winston of Marianna was an Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame linebacker from 1973-76 and coached Razorbacks defensive ends in 1997 after starting in two Super Bowls for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He knows Dameron having coached EIU defenses in 2014 and 2015.
"Kim is a great coach," Winston said.
"But FBS teams have 85 scholarships and FCS teams have 63. Eighty-five scholarships makes a big difference over 63. Especially when you have three and four-star athletes on your (Arkansas) team.”
If needed, the Razorbacks ought beat EIU on depth alone, though occasionally in these usually FBS vs. FCS mismatches, it's the FBS team struggling to tread deep water.
Jack Crowe, the former Arkansas coach who was fired after the 1992 season opener with the Hogs losing to The Citadel, a team from Division 1-AA politically corrected to today's FCS, but an FCS winner when his Jacksonville State team upset Nutt's Ole Miss Rebels in double overtime in Oxford, Miss., spoke about all that last Wednesday to the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club.
He warned the Razorbacks.
"Don't go out there and have a guy knock your head around until you figure out they have guys that can play," Crowe said.
Arkansas fifth-year senior safety Santos Ramirez said the Hogs take heed.
Last year, they barely subdued underdog Coastal Carolina 39-38 in Fayetteville.
"No matter how favored we are, we've got something to prove to everybody," junior cornerback Ryan Pulley said. "Including you guys, including the nation. We feel like we've got something to prove."